Dear King’s Community,
In less than two weeks, 238 residence students will arrive on campus and on September 7, classes begin. Our happiness and excitement at the resumption of the in-person life of the college is mixed with apprehensiveness about the delta variant, the emergence of a fourth wave and constantly evolving information on the effectiveness and the limitations of the protection provided by approved vaccines.
In Nova Scotia, we have reason to feel positive about the months ahead. With more than 69% of the population (and more than 78% of the eligible population) fully vaccinated, we are nearing the 75% threshold of total population vaccination that will allow Nova Scotia to enter Phase 5—the final phase—of its reopening plan targeted for September 15.
At King’s, we know with very high confidence that 100% of residence students who are medically able to be vaccinated are or will be double vaccinated on or soon after their arrival on campus. More generally, our survey of all students, faculty and staff, completed by 513 people or roughly half of those who will be attending or working at King’s, indicates that we will also have general population levels of vaccination very close to 100%.
The movement to Phase 5 will happen soon after King’s and other universities welcome back students from across Canada and the world. The travel and socializing that accompany students’ return, though cause for celebration, give us reasons to continue our cautious and vigilant approach to Covid safety that has stood our province and Nova Scotia universities in good stead since the pandemic began.
If you have not read King’s Central Safety Plan and the more detailed adjunct safety plans, I urge you to do so. It is crucial that we begin the year with an informed working knowledge of these safety plans. The strength of those plans depends on everyone at King’s knowing the content of those plans and continuing to do the best we can to contribute to implementing them as fully and as effectively as possible, including by holding each other accountable for doing our part.
King’s plans follow the guidance for universities developed for the Council of Nova Scotia University Presidents (CONSUP) that was then approved by the Occupational Health and Safety Division of the Department of Labour and Advanced Education and by Dr. Robert Strang. Our plans have also been reviewed and recommended by King’s Occupational Health and Safety Committee (OHS).
Over the course of the pandemic, our success has depended on the extent to which we live by our Covid plans and policies as the commitments we make to each other, not only as the rules of the university. The plans are at their strongest when viewed as part of “the precepts of communal living and learning” that King’s students promise to honour in their Matriculation ceremony and that we as a community strive to uphold.
The plans will evolve as circumstances require. I ask that you pay careful attention to your emails and notifications on King’s social media channels. I encourage you to raise questions or concerns with me at email@example.com, or directly with the OHS committee by reaching out to either Ian Wagschal at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Tim Ross at email@example.com.
The core of our Central Safety Plan is “two-dose vaccination by a very high percentage of members of the King’s community, frequent testing by everyone and participation in self-assessment and self-isolation by everyone,” as indicated to be necessary by self-assessment or testing. Since May, the university, its departments and programs and the KSU have regularly communicated the community’s expectation of double vaccination to everyone attending or working at King’s. Our community, out of its deeply shared commitment to community and civic responsibility, has responded overwhelmingly, as described above.
If you are one of the few who have not been fully vaccinated, and are returning to campus this fall, I urge you again to get vaccinated if you are medically able. This is for your safety and the health and safety of the students, faculty and staff of the college you will be learning and working with.
Students are encouraged to get vaccinated in your home community before coming to campus if at all possible. That said, if you are travelling to Halifax to study and need a vaccine when you arrive, you can get one or both doses here. Vaccine appointments can be booked through Nova Scotia Public Health. If you have a Nova Scotia Health Card, you can book online. If you don’t have an NS Health Card, you can make a vaccine appointment by calling 1-833-797-7772 (you need to be in Canada to call and the call must be made from a Canadian telephone number).
The pandemic remains a swiftly evolving situation, including on the question of whether vaccination should be mandatory. Many post-secondary institutions, including several in Atlantic Canada, have announced that they will mandate vaccination either for all students and employees or for those who live in residence or who play varsity sports.
As you may know when you read this, Dalhousie has announced that it is “preparing to implement additional vaccination and testing requirements for all students, faculty and staff accessing university campuses this fall (including but not limited to attending classes, using university facilities, working on campus, living in residence, participation in athletics, etc.)”.
This will apply to King’s students, who on average take roughly half their courses at Dalhousie, and to everyone at King’s who accesses the Dalhousie campus. Dalhousie has committed to discussions with King’s about the operational details of these vaccination and testing requirements considering its broad applicability to King’s students, faculty and staff. We will do everything we can for our students and all members of our community to ensure they are supported in meeting Dalhousie’s requirements.
As noted above, we are confident that our community is already poised to be a vaccinated community based on the pervasive and shared commitment of the people of King’s to the common good and their care and concern for each other and our wider community. This is the basis on which we will participate in discussions with Dalhousie about the operational details of how its mandatory requirements will apply to members of the King’s community.
I have recently referred the question of whether King’s should adopt its own vaccine mandate to our Occupational Health and Safety Committee. In keeping with procedural precedent throughout the pandemic, King’s decision on this matter will be made with the benefit of the committee’s consideration and recommendations and in light of the requirements applicable to members of the King’s community in accessing Dalhousie’s campus.
On this issue as on all others, our priorities must be the safety of everyone in our community and those beyond our community who are potentially affected by our decisions, upholding our trust and confidence in each other that has been our guiding star throughout the pandemic, and ensuring the members of both the King’s and Dalhousie communities have secure and safe access to each other’s campus and to the life of the community they share.
The emphasis our Central Safety Plan places on frequent testing requires that testing be readily available. We are fortunate that Nova Scotia has been a leader in making rapid tests readily available at sites throughout and beyond Halifax. Members of the King’s community will also have convenient access to the testing site located on the Dalhousie campus. King’s is also supplementing the testing available through these options by establishing a part-time Covid screening site at King’s, which will be operated by volunteers from among those who work at King’s.
The Central Safety Plan also provides for “Additional Safety Measures and Requirements.” On masks, the Plan says, “Everyone on King’s property will be encouraged to wear a non-medical mask in all indoor spaces.” It also says, “The mandatory use of masks may be reinstated or extended for specific circumstances.”
Additionally, all current provincial public health orders, including the need to wear masks in indoor public spaces, will continue to be applicable at King’s until Phase 5 of the provincial reopening plan is reached, anticipated for September 15.
King’s decision to extend our general mask wearing requirement beyond the expected transition to Phase 5, extends the protection afforded by masking until we can assess our ongoing safety needs. This will be based on our experience through September and our assessment of the prevailing public health situation after Nova Scotia has reached its threshold vaccination objectives for lifting remaining public health requirements.
I am confident we will fulfill our calling as an embodied community of learning in the coming year by integrating responsible Covid safety into how we will live out that calling. Living on campus with my family as I do, I look forward to once again sharing meals with students, participating in campus events as I always have and to sharing our home with students, faculty and staff.
The roots of my confidence lie in our plans that have been developed through inclusive and participatory processes, including our truly exceptional Occupational Health and Safety Committee which includes robust student, faculty and staff participation. More fundamentally, my confidence rests in our culture and ethos as a collegial community where we live and learn for each other and not solely with each other.
On that basis, I am looking forward with optimism to once again being fully immersed in the in-person life of the college as it fully returns to the Quad and the wider campus we share with Dalhousie and Halifax.
President and Vice-Chancellor